Groupthink: Decision Making and Group

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The term groupthink originated in 1952 in Fortune magazine by the author William Whyte. The theory, however, was not researched or clearly defined until around 1972 by Irving Janis. Whyte acknowledged that groupthink was a definition in progress; Janis picked up and further developed the study many years later. Groupthink is defined as a group’s inability to make correct decisions as a result of the implied need for group cohesion. “Janis provides a series of statements that collectively are a definition of groupthink: ‘Groupthink refers to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures’” (Hutter 5). Group members force themselves to come to an agreement about decisions even when some members may have differing opinions on the subject at hand. Basically, doubts are set aside out of fear of offsetting the groups balance. Janis lays out eight prominent symptoms of groupthink in his two works Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes (1972) and Groupthink (1982). The first symptom occurs when the group develops a false sense of imperviousness which then leads to more risky decision making. The second symptom happens when the group chooses to ignore warnings and objections as a result of supposed invulnerability. Third, the group tends to cease questioning the morality of decisions being made due to the sense of security which results from being part of a group. In the fourth symptom, members of the group formulate stereotyped views of their opposition’s leader. Next, there is pressure on dissenters to follow the majority decision. The pressure leads to self-censorship of the dissenters. Those who do not want to express their doubts lead the group to have a false sense of unanimity which is the seventh symptom. The last of the symptoms is the result of what is referred to as “self-appointed mindguards.” This means that members of the group refrain from sharing pertinent information to avoid damaging the group’s cohesiveness and solidarity. Not all of the symptoms occur simultaneously, but many can be present at once in groupthink. In the past, researchers have often evaluated political decisions in regards to groupthink. The major historical events frequently referred to are the Bay of Pigs invasion, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War, the space shuttle Challenger tragedy, and Watergate. Many of these events share common characteristics that are classified as causes of groupthink. For example, the groups in charge of the decisions had strong leaders whose ideas went unopposed by subordinates from within the group. Also, many of the events consisted of highly heterogeneous groups, which make for less diversity in regards to fresh ideas. The underlying problem with these events is the desire for group consensus above morality and the avoidance of diversity. Based on his eight symptoms of groupthink and various historical events which have fallen victim, Janis devised several ways to prevent groupthink. When in the initial phase of group formation and task assignment, leaders should not express any opinions about the mission at hand. Next, “leaders should assign each member the role of ‘critical evaluator’” (Wikipedia). This enables group members to feel free to voice objections and opinions. The group should be broken up into smaller subgroups to get more diverse alternatives to the problem being discussed. Outside sources from within the organization should be approached to get an unbiased opinion regarding the proposed alternatives. Also, outside experts should be solicited for advice and expertise. Finally, at least one member from within the group should be assigned the role of devil’s advocate. This role should be rotated regularly to obtain the most educated and unbiased final decision. Prior to the theory of groupthink, group dynamics were studied. Group...
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